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Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), I look forward to the enactment of the Bill, which I believe will enfranchise millions of voters in this country who, until now, have never had a chance for their vote to make a difference in an election. There are millions of Labour voters in the south--indeed, in the constituency of the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), for one--and millions of Conservative voters in Scotland who at present are excluded by the electoral system from any feeling that their vote matters in elections.

The proposed electoral system will, for the first time in this country--I exclude Scotland and Wales--create a situation where people's votes will count. As well as enfranchising millions of voters, it may well energise our democracy.

In the last European election we had, along with the Netherlands, the lowest turnout of any of the 15 countries in the European Parliament. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) may think that that is a good thing, but low turnout is a problem that is peculiarly strong in this country. The voting system has clearly been a major factor in that. The change to a new voting system, together with the right public information campaign--I do not think that spending £4 million on public information before the election will be money wasted--will energise many people to take part in the election, whereas they would not have taken part in previous elections.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): When he opened the debate, the Home Secretary was asked about a national list. He had to agree that a national list would be even more inclusive, in that it would allow people who wished to vote for extremist parties to do so. It would enable people to vote for small minorities, in order to secure representation. That, is it not, is the logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's argument--if he really believes that this opens up the possibility of representation of a kind that constitutes the key issue in this context.

Mr. Linton: I would have thought that the point of regional representation was self-evident. Its aim is to give MEPs the possibility of being representative on at least some human scale.

The point made by the hon. Gentleman about a national list is quite different. As he knows, the introduction of a national list would reduce the pressure to introduce much smaller parties in the European Parliament. It is no part of my understanding of democracy that greater democracy can be achieved by our allowing parties with support amounting to 1, 2 or 3 per cent. to be represented. That simply confuses the issue. The point of a regional system is that it will create a threshold against small parties.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West grappled with the names of devisers, which he has apparently mastered. The point of the difference between the systems is this: the system proposed by the Bill will create a situation in which--in the south-east, for example--any candidate winning less than 10 per cent. could not be elected. Under the other system, the same arrangement would obtain, but the qualifying percentage would be 5 per cent. That is the crucial difference between the devisers.

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I should have thought that, if Labour Members believe in a system that does not involve encouragement of the proliferation of small parties, they should--in this regard, at least--applaud the proposals in the Bill.

I have followed the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, but the breakthrough point is different in different regions. It is 10 per cent. or 11 per cent. in the south-east, but it is 33 per cent. in Wales. Should we not have equally sized regions? The political system is being skewed by the existence of large and very small regions.

Mr. Linton: That is probably true. I used the south-east as an example, because, with 10 members in a 10-member region, it will normally take 10 per cent. to be elected if the other deviser had been used, it would, effectively, have halved the threshold.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield(Sir N. Fowler) accused the Home Secretary of employing tedious arguments. I would say that the whole of this debate has become tiresome. In the House of Commons alone, we have discussed it for 36 hours. I hoped that Conservative Members would at least have returned to the new Session--having thought about the system that they supported in the last Parliament--with a workable system. However, we are back with the same unworkable system.

The Home Secretary pointed out that, under this system, a candidate could be elected with 300,000 votes, whereas a candidate from another party winning 500,000 votes might not be elected. That strikes me as enough of a problem with any electoral system, but there is an even worse problem in this system: someone could be elected, appearing as No. 2 on the list, with no votes at all. The system that is being advocated, and was advocated in the last Parliament, means that most voters would naturally take the top name in the box, and all the votes would be counted for all the people in the box--even candidates who received no personal votes and no indication of support from the electorate. Even those people could find themselves elected. No wonder the system is only used in Finland and Luxembourg, and has not recommended itself to any of the other countries of the European Union.

Mr. Randall: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why that system is so apt for Finland? If it is unfair, why are the Finns using it? He is very unfair to them.

Mr. Linton: The onus is on the hon. Gentleman to explain why he advocates the Finnish system. I can only point to the great difficulties of such a system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) talked about the experience of Switzerland, a non-European Union country which also has an open list system with voting not for parties, but only for candidates. That system has created competition between candidates and the anomalous position whereby candidates receiving no votes nevertheless get elected.

I struggled for a long time to understand the mystery of why the Opposition ignored open lists, month after month. They abstained on them in Committee and never mentioned them in debates. Suddenly, towards the end of the process, they became obsessed with open lists.

Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he has given me the opportunity to put right what he and several of his hon. Friends have said.

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As the hon. Gentleman heard my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire(Sir B. Mawhinney) say, and as I can confirm from my own experience, we raised the question of open lists in the debate on Second Reading a year ago. We have raised it at every opportunity since, and we have opposed what the Government are doing because we want voters to have a choice. The hon. Gentleman, too, has said in the past that he wants them to have a choice.

Mr. Linton: I have spoken in favour of the Belgian system, which is semi-open, but, as I recall, there has been no Opposition support for that system at any stage. Only in the later stages did they discover the apparent benefits of the Finnish system.

I have found the reason why the Opposition changed their opinion during the debate. It is nothing to do with the arguments made in the Chamber or in the other place, but it is to do with events within their own party. Towards the end of the debate, they had already selected their candidates for the European Parliament so they had obviated one of the obvious difficulties that they would have faced had they had an open list system and a lot of pro-European candidates.

I quote from the Financial Times, which states that, rather than having a

In other words, far from giving the voters a democratic choice of Conservative candidates--which they appeared to do, and which is the principle on which they support such a system--the Opposition carefully weeded out any candidates who would present the electorate with any choice whatever.

An article in The Daily Telegraph carries a statement by two Conservative Members of the European Parliament who had hoped to stand in the Conservative cause in the European elections next year, but were deselected by the Conservative party. They say:

Having got rid of any dissenting voices, the Opposition presented to the electorate an apparent choice of candidates, but that choice is of only Euro-sceptic or Europhobic candidates.

Mr. Loughton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because he quoted two MEPs who were not reselected. One might expect them to say that, but the vast majority of MEPs were reselected. Is it so strange to him that, if that policy was demanded of candidates, it was demanded by all members of the Conservative party who were entitled to vote? It may surprise him that there was unity of purpose on the European policy of the Conservative party in those selections--decided not by the party leadership, but by every individual member acting as one.

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